THE MAN FROM LA MANCHA at Music Theater Heritage
On view at Music Theater Heritage through October 23 at the Crown Center, an imaginative new production of 1965’s Tony Award-winning best musical “Man of La Mancha” is brought to you by Music Theater Heritage.
This “Man of LaMancha” is reimagined like no other production in the series you’ve ever seen. It’s driven by Kansas City’s “Ensemble Iberica” string musical treatment of the original score by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion to what you might have heard in the style of 16th-century Spain.
The cast is reduced from the original twenty-five actors to nine more manageable actors on the more intimate MTH main stage.
Originating from a 1959 non-musical television play by Dale Wasserman, “Man of La Mancha” tells the story of underage Spanish nobleman, soldier, and civil servant Miquel De Cervantes, a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Cervantes was also a playwright, actor and creator of Don Quixote, recognized as the first modern novel when it was first published in 1605.
Although filled with a score full of memorable music, “Man of La Mancha” is best known for its now-standard theme song “The Impossible Dream.” Cervantes/Don Quixote/Alanzo Quijana’s penultimate Don Miquel character is recast this time with classical guitarist and Carnegie Hall veteran Nilko Andreas as Cervantes. Although different from the usual “Man of La Mancha” treatment, just hearing Andreas and his guitar is worth the price of a ticket.
I must confess a weakness for flamenco and classical guitar. My college roommate was the first classical guitar student at our college. Our small apartment echoed with the sounds of flamenco, lute pieces by Bach, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, Spaniard Andres Segovia, Australian John Williams and Briton Julian Bream.
The device that drives the show is the near-true story of Cervantes imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition when, as a tax collector for the Crown, he makes the grave mistake of seizing church property.
Cervantes is taken to a dungeon, occupied by the dregs of society with all his worldly possessions in one chest. He is made to understand that in addition to the charges pending before the Court of Inquisition, he is about to be tried by a kangaroo court run by his fellow prisoners. The already predetermined fine is likely to be the contents of his trunk and his guitar. But Cervantes only has two possessions he really cares about. This is the unfinished manuscript of Don Quixote and his guitar.
Cervantes begs to present his story as entertainment by enlisting his companions in captivity as characters in the tale. If he is well received, Don Miquel could keep his manuscript and his instrument. The other inmates agree. The story will be (at worst) a diversion from the boredom of the dungeon.
Don Miquel tells the story of Alonzo Quijano, an old gentleman on the verge of madness. He believes he lives three hundred years in the past – in the age of chivalry – as a wandering knight named Don Quixote of La Mancha in search of adventure. Cervantes is accompanied by his servant and friend Sancho played here by Tony Pulford.
Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Zuluago-Kneeman is fine in the role of Aldonza/Dulcinea. The governor/
The innkeeper is Bradley J. Thomas. The voice find of this cast is Simon Schupp as Padre. We hear it in at least three songs, the ironic “I only think of him”, “The Psalm”, and the closer first act “To each his Dulcinée”.
In fact, my biggest complaint about this production is that a fairly large slice of the closer first act is cut out in favor of an extended classical guitar rendition of the same tune. (“Man of La Mancha” was originally performed in one act without an intermission.)
“The Man from La Mancha” is directed by Tim Scott. The musical director is Beau Bledsoe. The voice director is Ty Tuttle. The scenographer is Sandra Lopez. The lighting is by Danny Lawrence. The sound design is by Gianna Agostino although the sense an audience member has is usually acoustic.
“Man of La Mancha” is touching, full of borscht-belt-style humor with a Hispanic tinge, great music, and limited violence. The style of humor is not very surprising since the playwright and the composers were all Jewish. It is assumed that Cervantes himself was “Converso” or “New Christian” forced to convert by the Spanish Inquisition.
“Man of La Mancha” was one of the first sung “concept” musicals. It is absolutely to see. Tickets are available at www.musictheaterheritage.com.
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